Bangladeshi protesters hold torches in a demonstration against the murder of Niloy Neel, the fourth blogger killed in the country this year. (AFP/Munir uz Zaman)
Bangladeshi protesters hold torches in a demonstration against the murder of Niloy Neel, the fourth blogger killed in the country this year. (AFP/Munir uz Zaman)

Case will test Bangladesh and its commitment to justice for bloggers

Murder charges filed this week against five suspected Islamist militants in the killing of a Bangladesh blogger give the government a chance to prove it’s serious about protecting the nation’s bloggers. The formal charges, filed in connection with the March killing of Washiqur Rahman Babu, mark the first time charges have been brought in any of the four blogger slayings so far this year, according to news reports.

Police have also made several arrests in the past few weeks in connection with the other three murders. While critics remain unconvinced that the government is committed to delivering justice in these cases, Babu’s case presents an unusual opportunity for government officials to take a stand.

Why? Because the attackers were caught red-handed by members of a minority transgender community known as hijras, who tackled them when they tried to flee the scene of the murder and later handed them over to the police. There is, of course, a long road from the formal charges filed this week to credible convictions in a court of law. A Dhaka court will now have to decide whether to take this case to trial or order further investigation. And many bloggers remain skeptical.

Blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who narrowly escaped death after assailants stabbed him in January 2013, says these recent arrests are face-saving attempts by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as it comes under mounting international pressure to protect bloggers. “I don’t trust the government,” he told CPJ. “These arrests are just an eye wash to deal with the international media and pressure.” Mohiuddin believes the police will frame weak charge sheets for those in custody leading to their eventual release.

Mohiuddin has every reason to cast doubts on authorities’ intentions. Following his gruesome stabbing, police arrested a few of the accused attackers, only for them to be released on bail to carry out subsequent attacks on bloggers. On Thursday, as authorities announced two more arrests in last month’s murder of blogger Niloy Neel, police acknowledged that the men in custody are the same ones accused of stabbing Mohiuddin in 2013. They had subsequently been released on bail, The Associated Press reported.

As we noted last month, police earlier arrested two suspects in Neel’s murder and three suspects, including one they claim is the mastermind, behind the earlier murders of bloggers Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das. But some bloggers expressed skepticism about the significance of these arrests. Ananya Azad, who recently fled the country after receiving death threats, questioned whether authorities are going after the real culprits or masterminds in these murders and whether anything will really change with these arrests. “I can’t be so sure that these arrests would be helpful…let’s see what [authorities] could find out,” he told CPJ.

Ensuring Babu’s killers are brought to justice could help restore bloggers’ confidence in the government and mark one step toward stemming impunity for the attackers of bloggers in the country.